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North East Independent School District (NEISD) has run up a $2.5 million shortfall from food service—just since March.

5 coronavirus things: Summer meal programs stretching school nutrition budgets

This and Northeastern University leasing part of Boston Symphony Hall for dining space are some of the stories you may have missed recently regarding the COVID-19 crisis.

In this special edition of 5 Things, Food Management highlights five things you may have missed recently about developments regarding coronavirus and its impact on onsite dining.

Here’s your list for today:

  1. Summer meal programs stretching school nutrition budgets

For months now, school districts have been providing meals to their students—at no cost. Those programs do have a downside though. Local school districts are absorbing millions of dollars in unreimbursed expenses.

"The schools got a bailout where they got to continue their regular funding through the end of the school year," says Sharon Glosson, executive director for nutrition at the North East Independent School District (NEISD) in Texas. "[People] don’t realize that didn’t apply to the school nutrition program."

NEISD has run up a $2.5 million shortfall from food service—just since March.

It's even worse at Northside ISD, where district spokesman Barry Perez says the tab is estimated at $2.8 to $3.2 million.

NEISD has had to tap into its nutrition excess fund to cover expenses since the USDA stopped reimbursing when schools closed. NISD has turned to its child nutrition reserves to cover the cost of its program.

"At this point, we have a little over $9 million left in the (excess) fund," Glosson says. "But we know that at the rate we saw in the spring and the summer, that that amount would not sustain us through an entire school year."

Read more: Popular summer student meal programs stretching school district budgets due to USDA

  1. Northeastern leases part of Boston Symphony Hall for dining space

Northeastern University is leasing the Cohen Wing of Boston’s Symphony Hall for “student dining, ‘grab ‘n go’ meal distribution, and student collaboration,” according to a letter from Northeastern administrators sent to the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The university intends to use approximately 14,000 square feet of the space for a six-month period, from Aug. 15 to Feb. 14, 2021.

Read more: Northeastern to use part of Symphony Hall for fall dining

  1. Small Georgia district starts school this week with lunch in classroom

As other districts around Georgia have delayed their back-to-school dates or moved to all-remote learning, Chattooga County school officials are going ahead with plans to start on July 30, one of the earliest start days in the nation. The district has one high school, one middle school, three elementary schools and an alternative school.

Student pickup, drop-off, lunches and recess will be altered to make sure social distancing is a priority. Water fountains will be replaced with bottle refill stations, recess will be limited to outdoor play, playground equipment will be off-limits and hand sanitation stations will be placed around each building.

Students at the high school will notice a few changes early on. Breakfast will stop being served in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. The cafeteria would normally be crowded from 7:30 to 8 a.m. before first period, but now to ensure students don't crowd the cafeteria, kids who come in after 7:30 a.m. who need breakfast will pick theirs up and eat it in their first period room.

Lunch will be eaten in classrooms and not the cafeteria. Students will also be dismissed for lunch and from the last period in a staggered schedule to limit exposure from student to student.

Read more: Chattooga County Schools is one of the first districts in US to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic

  1. Southern Miss dining goes cashless

The University of Southern Mississippi is making alterations to its dining services by introducing touchless payments in campus dining. The payment changes come in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will join other measures, including socially distant seating, and changes to how food is prepared at all university dining venues.

According to an official university release, each of the new measures will support university, local, state and federal guidelines. Where applicable, previous self-service and buffet-style dining will be replaced by food served by dining personnel. Additionally, all Eagle Dining employees will undergo health and temperature screenings prior to their shifts, and will be required to wear face coverings, gloves and wash hands at least every 20 minutes.

As for payment, Southern Miss’ on-campus dining locations have implemented a “no cash” operation. Accepted methods of payment will now include the student ID card loaded with a meal plan or declining balance dollars, as well as Visa, MasterCard, Amex via swipe or chip, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. All credit card machines will also be repositioned to be guest facing and will no longer require a PIN.

Read more: Southern Miss implementing touchless payments in dining

  1. Chartwells to operate residential dining at University of Toledo

The University of Toledo (UT) is rolling out a number of changes to its on-campus dining experience this fall in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and as part of a new dining contract. UT has partnered with Chartwells Higher Education to refurbish its residential dining options.

The university has signed a letter of intent with Chartwells, Tyrel Linkhorn, a spokesman for the university, said, but the contract has yet to be executed.

In February, the university’s board of trustees approved a 3.1% increase in meal plans to cover increasing costs of operations. For the 2020-2021 academic year, four meal plans will be offered, including an all-you-care-to-eat plan. “The other three plans provide more flexible options for using meal swipes and dining dollars,” Mr. Linkhorn said.

Read more: UT contracts with Chartwells for dining services

Bonus: 25 K-12 Foodservice Heroes who fed kids during the coronavirus crisis

Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]

TAGS: Coronavirus
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